An anthology of Buffalo poets
A group of young Poets is shaped by—and shaping—buffalo
Justin Karcher, Noah Falck, and Aidan Ryan
Photo by kc kratt
My Next Heart: New Buffalo Poetry (2017, BlazeVOX[Books]) comprises more than fifty poets who range in age from sixteen to forty. Editors Noah Falck, education director at Just Buffalo and curator of the Silo City reading series; Justin Karcher, poet, playwright, and editor of Ghost City Review; and Aidan Ryan, cofounder Foundlings Press, discuss the younger generation of poets writing about how Buffalo has left its stamp on them—and vice versa.
SPREE: What was the impetus for this book, how did the idea for it come about?
Aidan Ryan: There was just so much going on in the scene, with young people especially, that we needed to try to take a snapshot. I knew that I was totally the wrong person for the job, and I immediately thought of Justin and Noah—because of their poetry, and because of the role they’ve played in the community for several years now.
How do you all know each other?
Noah Falck: We met when Aidan sent me an email to send some poems to his journal, Foundlings. And I’d seen Justin, but we hadn’t sat down and had a conversation. So, it was also a chance to open up dialogue.
Because we’ve got such different poetics, and Justin also has a theater background, there are so many different microcommunities that we were able to bring under this one project. This project is an opportunity to build bridges within the Buffalo literary community. It’s also a wonderful way to highlight a great number of energetic and creative young people writing in this city. I think this project acts as a conduit to future conversations about the work happening here.
How did you get the word out? And how did you choose what to pick?
AR: So much of the lift here would not just be picking poems that we all love and the ones we think are best, but really trying to capture the moment. We know our knowledge is limited. We don’t know everybody in every scene. Also, our tastes are limited, so the test was assembling this editorial advisory board: Eve Williams, Rachelle Toarmino, Tom Dreitlein, and Paige Melin. We also reached out to every single English teacher with a publically available email, high school and college.
It seems like Buffalo, the actual physical environment, has a huge impact on the way people synthesize what they’re trying to say, image-wise. Did you find any common themes? Water? Rust?
Justin Karcher: I’d say the idea of neighborhood, there are a lot of poems that focus on the various areas of Buffalo, be it South Buffalo or the West Side or the East Side. A lot of bars. Music is very prevalent in the collection. It was interesting what constitutes a “Buffalo poem.” We certainly kept it open to people’s own interpretations, as opposed to, “I want a poem about Chippewa or Niagara Street or that statue of that soldier near Lafayette High School.” Water does pop up a lot. Clearly, snow.
I didn’t want to say it.
NF: How the title came about for this is really interesting. When we got all the submissions, we thought, something’s going to jump out. We were worried that if we didn’t find something, would we have to put “snow” in the title?
AR: Many of the poems that say the most about Buffalo address the city indirectly. Like Eve Williams’s “My Brother Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.” A heartbreaking, stunning poem, clearly rooted in place in microlocality, microidentity, but isn’t singing Buffalo all the time.
NF: On the other hand, you have those Joe Hall poems that are these short kind of futuristic, this is the Buffalo of 2020. He talks about certain neighborhoods in Buffalo, and those are kind of beautiful in the fact that they’re also tragic. He’s not from Buffalo, so he has a new interpretation of what Buffalo is about.
AR: One thing I want to stress, too, is that the book is out there, but the work is not done. We want to get into high schools and colleges to spread the word for the next time somebody attempts something like this.
JK: We’ve made it an issue to reach out to high schools and especially bring poets into those classrooms. Like Aidan said, it isn’t like this book is out and Buffalo’s literary identity is set.
Why did you decide to have it bound instead of in a digital platform?
NF: I’m a book person, and I think that most poets are book people. You’re going to reach more people with a digital platform. It’s an easy way to share it. But there’s something about—I know this is such a cliché—but there is something about holding a book. Sitting in a chair. Reading it. Turning the page. Smelling the book at times. Writing in the book, making notes.
JK: And there’s something tangible to hold, but in addition to the poems in there, the whole thing is like a work of art. It’s a physical work of art.
AR: That amazing cover art by Chuck Tingley. That’s one screen of a PDF and then you scroll up? Digital books make such a slight impact on your mind that’s just not what you want to do for a project of this magnitude.
I imagine you’ve lived with these poems in your head for months. If you go out walking around, do different people’s poems come to you?
AR: That’s happened before the book, though. I think we’ve been living with each other, and by that I mean all the people who are in this book, for a long time. But, definitely, this made it happen more often.
JK: It’s this idea of living in a city that is really changing. Different voices are coming in and it’s about protecting these voices. I want this book to be a symbol of that. You still need the arts; you still need the idea of cradling voices to really show off the identity of a city, despite the word “renaissance” being thrown around.
NF: For me, even though it’s a book that holds all these Buffalo voices, it’s also for people who are outside of Buffalo to get ahold of it and to read it and think, there is kind of an interesting movement happening in Buffalo. It doesn’t necessarily speak to these places and it doesn’t matter where these places are in Buffalo. It’s a universal telling of the story. That, to me, is what resonates.